There is an interesting phenomenon that has emerged since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the president of the ANC and his assuming the presidency of South Africa – many media articles and ordinary citizens refer to him as “Cyril”.
Few people realise exactly why they do this, but there is indeed a very significant reason for this happening. Whether President Ramaphosa is doing what he’s doing consciously and intentionally or not, I cannot yet tell. He also still has to pass a few more tests before one can provide a clear assessment of the integrity that exists between his words and actions, but he is certainly moving in the right direction.
In a nutshell, the reason for people using his first name is that he is one of the new generation leaders who does not rely on a power gap to give him his sense of identity and authority. New generation leaders intuitively understand that their authority does not lie in their position but in their person. And, when a leader has no need of a title to execute their vision (remember Robin Sharma’s book, The leader who had no title?), he or she has no need to create and maintain a power gap between themselves and the people they lead.
Such leaders don’t announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to announce that there is now no power gap between me and you”. They simply conduct themselves in certain ways that send that message to everyone in a far more subtle, yet powerful way.
This message is conveyed through the way they interact with people, certain things they say and do, and by their general demeanour. And people very quickly get the message.
Here are three benefits of having no power gap. There are more – with a little bit of thought, you will come up with a whole lot more …
The presidency of Jacob Zuma had many examples of a large power gap – regularly arriving late for events was but one of them. This sent a message to everyone that the leader considered himself much more important than those he was to address so they must just wait for him. In his opinion, other people’s time was not as important as the great leader’s time. While the undiscerning among us may accept such conduct, this would alienate the more discerning.
When there is a small, or no power gap, one of the first things that happens is that people start feeling a sense of connection with the leader. They embrace him or her as one of them and this increases the level of influence the leader has. We are much more inclined to comply with, agree with or support the wishes, views and decisions of someone whom we have embraced as “one of us” than we would of someone who has distanced himself or alienated himself by insisting on maintaining a large power gap.
When people feel an affection for someone in a leadership position, they invariably refer to him or her by their first name – as a term of affection. Think back to those teachers of yours at school for whom you had affection. What did you call them? I bet you referred to them by their first names! And we don’t lose that habit when we leave school. President Ramaphosa is therefore referred to as “Cyril” not as a sign of familiarity or disrespect, but as a sign of affection. And we allow ourselves to be influenced by people we like.
Have you wondered why our Cyril has started going on his very public early morning walks in various residential areas around the country? Again, I have no knowledge as to the real reason he’s doing it (apart from keeping fit?), but one of the messages it sends people is, “I’m one of you. I’m coming to your neighbourhood. I’m accessible.”
These three benefits are critically important for any leader if they want to enjoy significant influence in people’s lives and, to this end, President Ramaphosa has certainly started moving in the right direction.
In the old days, leaders could rely on the power of their position and, with that, the hierarchical structures that were part of the power gap of those bygone days. That’s gone for ever. If you’re a leader and you’re still clinging to your job title for a sense of power, cling (and dream) on. You will have very little to no influence in people’s lives.
Start reducing your power gap and become one of the people you lead, then watch your influence increase, not to mention the increase in productivity and profitability of the people you lead.
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and helps business leaders learn to lead with purpose and agility.